COLLOQUIUM: Patricia Rosenmeyer, University of Wisconsin-Madison, "The Vocal Memnon Colossus"

Thursday, October 22, 2015 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm

402 Cohen Hall 

The Memnon colossus in Egyptian Thebes was a popular tourist destination.  After an earthquake in 27 BCE toppled its massive head, the remaining stones began to emit a high-pitched noise each morning; ancient visitors interpreted the noise as the Trojan hero Memnon crying out to his mother, the dawn goddess Eos.  In response, visitors carved over 100 Greek and Latin inscriptions on the statue’s legs.  My paper explores how visitors engaged with the headless, speaking statue as if it were alive. Taking their cue from the statue’s utterances, the Memnon inscribers turned to apostrophe, in which they addressed Memnon as a listener, and prosopopeia, in which they imagined Memnon as an interlocutor.  I explore these two categories as evidence for the visitors’ yearning to find a personal link through Memnon to a distant yet privileged Greek past. Their inscriptions, as scripted conversations, bear witness to their celebration of an auditory rather than a visual thauma, and their instinct to document the exchange.